Marconi Stallions will host Western Sydney Wanderers on Saturday night in one of the most eagerly anticipated clashes of the season.
The competition heavyweights boast an abundance of quality players and both are in good form, and while it's still early days, victory in this clash will be significant.
In other matches, a resurgent Northern Tigers take on a struggling Central Coast Mariners; Blacktown Spartans host Bankstown Berries; Bankstown City face Mt Druitt Town Rangers; Mounties Wanderers host St George; Hills Brumbies tackle Macarthur Rams and North Shore Mariners travel to Spirit FC.
In what is shaping as an exciting round, three matches will be played on Sunday.
Match of the Round
Marconi Stallions vs Western Sydney Wanderers, Marconi Stadium, Saturday 25 March, 7pm
Marconi Stadium is the place to be this Saturday night as the Stallions host Western Sydney Wanderers in a blue-chip match of the round that many PS4 NPL 2 NSW Men’s aficionados are predicting to be a grand final preview.
The Stallions share the competition lead alongside Blacktown Spartans, just two points ahead of Western Sydney, but those numbers will mean nothing by 7pm on Saturday night.
Marconi probably turned on their most consistent performance of the season in last week's 3-1 victory over the Bankstown Berries, a welcome relief for coach Tony Candy who was disappointed with his side's performance against Macarthur a fortnight ago.
The Marconi mentor said that while he was delighted with the turnaround in form and the result, what pleased him most was his side's ability to control the game for the full 90 minutes. He also understands that this week's test will be a formidable one and last season's grand finalists will pose a significant challenge.
"Western Sydney will be a different proposition, a different game," Candy told Football NSW. "They've got a different playing style. They've got some talented players. It'll be a difficult game. But for us it's the most important game of the round. The game has obviously got some significance and it's very important that we get a good result."
Marconi has the most experienced side in the competition. They also have the biggest budget, and with the likes of former Socceroo Michael Beauchamp and ex-A-League stars Peter Triantis, Sean Rooney, Mirjan Pavlovic and Marko Jesic leading the charge, they'll be a formidable challenge for a young Western Sydney side still finding their way.
It might be early days yet but Western Sydney hasn't quite reached the heights of last season, when it was common for the red and black to demolish teams with equal doses of skill, mobility and guile. But most of all, they had the mental toughness to crush an opponent when holding a lead.
That hasn't quite happened this season, with last week's 4-3 escape over Spirit FC a classic example of not putting the foot to the throat when holding a significant advantage. The young Wanderers held a commanding 3-0 halftime lead but conceded two quick goals after the restart before eventually escaping with a 4-3 win.
Wanderers coach Trevor Morgan said that while he was disappointed with this aspect of his team's performance, he was happy with their ability to compete physically against more mature and experienced opposition.
"I'm happy that we're coping with the physical demands of the league," Morgan said. "But I do think that our concentration and certain tactical aspects of the game need to improve. Otherwise we would've won every game 5-0 and kept a clean sheet. For me, I'm happy that they're physically competing against the men but we need to be more correct in our actions in both boxes."
While the Stallions boast several quality players who have experienced the top flight, the young Wanderers also have their fair share of players who are on the cusp of moving onto bigger and better things. Eighteen-year-old Abraham Majok, Mario Shabow and Keanu Baccus have already tasted first team football, while several players train regularly with Tony Popovic's A-League squad, which will provide an edge when push comes to shove against the Stallions.
When asked how important the Marconi clash was to his side, Morgan replied: "We want to win on Saturday, we prepare to win every match. We know for sure Marconi's going to be tough and I assume that for them playing at home, they're going to be looking to win it. Sometimes teams play with caution and hope to get a result. But I think Marconi will be aggressive and it'll be a good test for us."
Fortunately, both sides are injury free and expect to have all players available for selection.
Northern Tigers FC vs Central Coast Mariners, Valentine Sports Park, Saturday 25 March, 1pm
Northern Tigers host Central Coast Mariners at Valentine Sports Park on Saturday afternoon and after a solid win against St George last weekend, Mark McCormick's side are primed to continue on their merry way.
The Tigers showed a lot of character to bounce back from a 1-0 deficit against the Saints, especially considering the side's youth and inexperience.
"We've only got two players over the age of 25, so we're a really young squad and we've got a lot to learn," McCormick told Football NSW. "But we're heading in the right direction."
With three consecutive defeats, Central Coast Mariners are struggling at the moment, but McCormick refuses to underestimate the talented academy side.
"I think they're going to be very good," he said. "They should've won the Brumbies game (last weekend) very comfortably. They were 4-2 up, hit the post and missed an open goal.
"Technically they're good and they're a young team as well. They try to keep the ball down and play in the right way and they're well coached. Their lowly position on the table isn't a true indication of how good they are."
Meanwhile, the Mariners last Saturday returned to Gosford after a demoralising 5-4 defeat away to Hills Brumbies, a setback that stung the young Coasters after they let a commanding 4-2 lead slip in the last 20 minutes.
"They're pretty despondent," Mariners coach Ben Cahn said of his young charges. "Sunday was also our worst performance of the season. It was very frustrating again. We had a two-goal lead and felt that we were significantly better than the opposition, but again got caught with a lack of maturity and lack of experience. The result was crazy in the end."
The Mariners are equal last on the table but despite their lowly position and the fact they've conceded 11 goals, they've actually played some scintillating football along the way. But only in patches.
"We need to improve defensively," Cahn said. "We've conceded 11 goals in three games, it's not acceptable. But in the first two games and even in patches against Hills, we played some really, really good football. The boys are playing football that I know (first team coach) Paul Okon would be happy with. Now they need to mature, but such are the harsh realities of senior football."
On the injury front, Tigers' Kyohei Kimura will miss a couple of months after tearing his MCL against St George last weekend, while Ollie Stickland and Ally Brown remain on the sidelines with long term injuries. The Mariners meanwhile, have a full squad available for selection.
Blacktown Spartans vs Bankstown Berries, Blacktown Football Park, Saturday 25 March, 7pm
Blacktown Spartans will be looking to continue on their winning way when they host Bankstown Berries at Blacktown Football Park on Saturday night. The unlikely league leaders again pulled off a last-gasp escape when they beat Macarthur 3-2 at the death last weekend.
So far the Spartans have been on a fairytale run of epic proportions. A young team. A minimal budget. And in Luis Contigiani, a coach dedicated to developing local talent to their full potential, making for an inspirational story.
"They're feeling great," Contigiani said of his young charges. "They're winning and winning gives players confidence and momentum."
Despite his side's remarkable start to the season, Contigiani refuses to look too far ahead and believes his side needs to improve in two important areas - defensively and in the final third.
"We need to be more ruthless in front of goal," Contigiani told Football NSW. "In the first 15 minutes of last week's game we had several clear-cut chances and should've been ahead by more than two goals. We lack that conviction but we still scored so we can only get better."
Defensively, the Spartans mentor was exasperated when a Macarthur player dribbled past four of his players before being floored inside the penalty box.
"One player dribbling past four of my defenders (last week), I can't accept that," he said. "We really need to tighten up at the back. It was unacceptable."
Meanwhile, while the Spartans may sit in the NPL2 penthouse, the Berries are firmly entrenched near the basement. But despite their poor start to the season, Costigiani is expecting to engage a team desperate to win.
"They're going to come out and give us everything they've got," he said. "They haven't won a game and a team that's wounded will always come out fighting. I expect a very tough game and I expect them to force the issue early. We've just got to keep doing what we've been doing and I'm confident that we'll be ready for whatever they throw at us."
Bankstown Berries may not be where they want to be at the moment, but player coach Perry Moustakas was proud of his side's effort against star-studded Marconi last weekend.
"We've got a new team so there have been a lot of changes," Moustakas told Football NSW. "So to gel as a team will take time. The team spirit's been there, they're training well, and they took it to Marconi the other day. And let's be fair, Marconi have a strong budget, they have a strong team, they have very experienced players. But I felt like we made it tough for them so I'm happy with that.
"But we need improvement all over the park, we're nowhere near a finished product. Week by week we're getting better but football results are important and we need to start getting results now."
When asked what he expected of the Spartans, Moustakas replied: "Spartans have had a great start, they're three from three, they've got a great field there so they're obviously on a high. But we're definitely not down. It'll be another tough game."
Richard Blanco remains the Spartans' only injury concern, while Berries striker Gavin Forbes was due to start training this week.
Bankstown City Lions vs Mt Druitt Town Rangers, Jensen Park, Saturday 25 March, 7pm
Bankstown City Lions will be desperate to turn their season around after a heavy 4-1 defeat to North Shore Mariners last Saturday. New coach Mile Todorovski, who stepped into the hot seat following the shock departure of John Caruana on the eve of the Mariners game, will have little time to get up to speed with a new-look squad that has struggled in its opening two matches.
Despite the dramas at Jensen Park, Mt Druitt Town Rangers' coach Aidan Desmond is certain the Lions will be fired up and desperate to impress their new coach.
"I expect them to have renewed vigour with Mile (Todorovski) coming in," Desmond told Football NSW. "Obviously things didn't go so well for them against North Shore Mariners but Mile will have had some time to get his hands on them and prepare them. You know you're going to be in for a physical contest when you play Mile's teams."
Mt Druitt has drawn both of their matches this season, while last week's clash against Mounties was washed out due to Sydney's inclement weather.
In their two matches to date, Desmond has been impressed with his side's commitment to the cause and hopes that selfless attitude will get them across the line at Jensen Park.
"They turn up week in, week out for training and games," Desmond said. "They're committed to whatever we're doing. You can't fault it. But we need to improve our execution. We need to take our opportunities. Hopefully that'll get us home against Bankstown."
On the injury front, things are improving at Popondetta Park, with a number of players, including ace striker Kuag Reec and midfielder Nathan Ralph scheduled to undergo fitness tests on Tuesday. "Our players are pulling up," Desmond said, "we're having some fitness tests tonight and hopefully we'll be close to or 90 per cent full strength this weekend."
Mounties Wanderers vs St George, Valentine Sports Park, Sunday 26 March, 1pm
Mounties Wanderers host St George at Valentine Sports Park on Sunday afternoon with both teams hoping to get their seasons back on track after a weekend that included a wash-out and defeat respectively.
Wanderers coach Lee Sterrey is hopeful that his forwards can improve on their last hitout, a 2-1 defeat to Northern Tigers in Round 2, when several clearcut goalscoring opportunities were wasted.
"We need to get more clinical in the front third," Sterrey said. "Our forwards need to execute when the chances arise."
Sterrey added that the Wanderers won't be underestimating St George, especially when last season as coach at Macarthur Rams, he failed in two matches against the red and white.
"Last year with the Rams I couldn't beat them, they beat us twice 1-0 and we had the better of the games and didn't take our chances," Sterrey said. "They're a team that keeps going; they keep fighting till the end. Underestimate St George at your own peril. We won't be taking them lightly, we'll treat them with respect but it's a game where we've got to come out full guns blazing."
Meanwhile, St George will be desperate to exorcise the demons of last weekend's poor performance against Northern Tigers, a match they let slip after taking an early lead.
"There weren't many positives to come out of that game, to be honest," said St George coach Terry Palapanis. "We weren't good. I thought it was quite a poor performance, our players are a lot better than they showed. It's back to square one, back to basics, starting at training tonight."
Palapanis added that his side needed to improve all over the park.
"We need to improve in retaining possession; having our passes stick; combinations, rotations, the lot. I was very disappointed in our performance. It was flat. I think Mounties will be hard. They'll be tough and we're not in any form at all. We need to be at our best to even have a chance."
On the injury front, Palapanis was hoping to have injured captain Tarik Ercan, Rino Zinari and Tom Menton available for selection.
Hills Brumbies vs Macarthur Rams, Lilys Football Centre, Sunday 26 March, 6.30pm
Newly-promoted Hills Brumbies will be aiming to win consecutive games when they host Macarthur Rams at Lilys Football Centre on Sunday.
On a high from Sunday's spectacular last-gasp victory over Central Coast Mariners, the Brumbies have been basking in the aftermath of their stunning 5-4 win.
"The boys were over the moon with the win," Hills coach Dan Sheppard told Football NSW. "They were rapt, especially with the way they came back from 4-2 down. I don't think too many people would've expected us to come back the way we did."
Although it's early days, the Brumbies have impressed in their first season in the PS4 NPL 2 NSW Men's, and with a return of two wins from three outings, they're in a good place and have the desire to continue their rise as a force to be reckoned with.
"We're doing well but we're still the newcomers in the competition, we've still got a lot to learn," Sheppard said. "I guess we're just happy we're getting results and we just want to make it last as long as we can.
"But having said that, we definitely need to tighten up our defending. Regardless of the (5-4) win (against Central Coast), you can't be happy when you concede four goals. And it could've been more. I think Central Coast can be aggrieved that they didn't score more, they had enough opportunities to do so."
When asked what he expected of Macarthur, Sheppard replied: "I'm expecting them to be tough. Their results are probably not truly reflective of how good they actually are. We have to heavily respect them because they've been a PS4 NPL 2 NSW Men's side for a number of years and we're almost envious of them because that's where we want to be. We want to be the team that's got our own synthetic field, we want to be the team that's been in PS4 NPL 2 NSW Men's for a number of years and been able to build on that, and be stable.
"Every game is going to be a tough game for us. Everyone is going to look at us and think we're just on a bit of a wave at the moment and we're the new boys who need to be showed a lesson or two. So we'll just do the best we can and hopefully pick up some more points."
Meanwhile, Macarthur coach Eddie Briscoe said he was expecting a tough game at Lilys Football Centre.
"We played them in preseason and they were very quick, high pressing, with lots of movement up front," Briscoe told Football NSW. "They were also very physical, well organised and they seem to be well coached. So it's going to be a really tough game up there."
With a big cleanout during the offseason, Macarthur has been plagued by injuries, forcing Briscoe to keep a small squad, including a few players from the youth team.
"We've been under the pump with player numbers due to suspensions and injuries," Briscoe said. "We've been going into games quite short of manpower. Despite that, I've been impressed with their tenacity and desire to play. Given the circumstances, the commitment to the game plan and what we're trying to achieve has been fantastic."
One part of their game Macarthur will need to tighten up is their defence at set plays, an area in which they've had some grief.
"We tend to switch off defensively at set plays so I'd like to see improvement there," Briscoe said. "And with the chances we create, we need a bit more urgency in the 18-yard box. There has been a big turnover of players since last season and we lost our main striker, Elsid Barkhousir. And as I said, there have been a few injuries and suspensions which has set us back a bit. We've only got a small squad and we've had to put the youth players in at the deep end quite quickly."
Spirit FC vs North Shore Mariners, Valentine Sports Park, Sunday 26 March, 7pm
Spirit FC will host North Shore Mariners at Valentine Sports Park on Sunday evening in what should be a wiling battle between teams that are currently placed fourth-equal on the table. The home side competed bravely against Western Sydney Wanderers last weekend, trailing 3-0 at halftime before clawing their way back into the contest. The fact the Wanderers escaped with a 4-3 victory didn't take away the positive vibe that swept around the Spirit dressing room; while the Mariners enjoyed a comprehensive 4-1 win over Bankstown City Lions.
"We learnt a lot from the game and the boys came off the pitch pretty positive from the second half," Spirit coach David Perkovic told Football NSW. "They got a bit of belief from that display and we'll carry that throughout the week as we prepare for our next game."
For some reason Spirit has fallen behind in each of their three matches this season, only to finish strongly, a fact that has impressed coach David Perkovic. "Despite going behind first we've got results in two of those games: a draw and a victory," Perkovic told Football NSW. "Obviously last week's game against the Wanderers we were down 3-0 and while it would've been easy to drop our heads and go down 4-0 or 5-0, we showed good character to actually come back, which has impressed me so far."
When asked what he expected of the Mariners this Sunday, the Spirit coach replied: "I think they're going to be tough opponent. Last year was their first in the league and they had the relegation battle towards the end of the season; so I think they'll be looking to avoid that as early as possible. They learnt a lot from last season and I think they'll be better prepared this time around. Their win over Bankstown last weekend will have put them in a positive frame of mind and they'll take that into the game against us. We'll have a task on the weekend."
Perkovic added that he hoped his side would score first, which would be "a significant improvement".
"This early in the season you don't want to fall too far behind," he said. "You still want to continue learning about your own team and what they're capable of and hope that will continue going forward. But you don't want to drop too many points at the start of the season. We're at home this weekend and we want to take maximum points."
On the injury front, star striker Christopher Gomez remains sidelined, while midfielder Alexander Doyle joins him on the injured list. Grant Cornwell is getting married on Friday and is unavailable. Tim Porter and Brad Gibson are available for selection.
Meanwhile, despite their big win over Bankstown City last weekend, the Mariners aren't getting too far ahead of themselves so early in the season.
"The boys were subdued after the win over Bankstown because we're only three games into the season," Mariners coach Joe Haywood told Football NSW. "They're just working hard and trying to stay focused."
Haywood revealed that his side are hoping to work better with the ball, an area in which they've improved but now want to see some consistency.
"We were good with that last week and we've improved but now we want to try to get some consistency into our game so we can try and keep developing our style of play.
"We've got so many new players but I've been impressed with the spirit within the group. We lost one and drew one in the first two rounds but the group stuck together and now we've got a win under our belts and are ready to move forward this week."
Haywood anticipates a stern contest against Spirit, a side he describes as a "strong unit".
"They're a good, well-established PS4 NPL 2 NSW Men's team that know what they're doing both on the field and off the field. They're going to be tough."
The Mariners have no injury concerns and will welcome Dominic Maunder and Michael Stojanovski back from suspension.
Source FNSW Website- By Derek Royal, Football NSW